Let’s clear one thing up: I’m American, okay? I don’t claim to be anything but. I’m prone to hyperbole. I talk with my hands. I’m loud. I’m crass. And I don’t understand the point of apologising to someone who stepped on my foot, even if it was stuck out halfway across the train carriage. Watch where you’re going, ass.
One thing all Americans do understand, though, is political turmoil. After all, much like iOS7, our government tends to unexpectedly shut down. So you can see where I could possibly understand Russell Brand and Peter Hitchens, arguing from completely opposite political plains, that the government is fundamentally broken and beyond hope. The only thing is, I don’t understand at all. For like listening to a drunk Sarah Palin talking to a stoned George Bush, it’s all just a bunch of babbling with some laughs here and there.
I’ve already taken Hitchens to task over encouraging young Brits to abandon the ship of state, which he reckoned he “ought to be pleased by.” Likewise, the Telegraph Men columnist, Caroline Kent, did a bang up job in her personal blog (which she Tweeted-so I feel alright citing here) of surmising Brand’s articulate but ultimately incoherent argument; “he is basically just spewing the contents page of the Occupy manifesto in people’s faces,” she wrote, adding that it is “hardly groundbreaking stuff.” Hear, hear.
There’s been a lot of commentary on Brand’s Newsnight interview, and I imagine the story has only just gotten its legs. Less has been written about Peter Hitchens’ comments, because let’s face it, the average Brit hardly knows (or cares) who Hitchens is. But what I haven’t seen is anybody linking their dour pessimism together.
Yes, obviously comparing the two is akin to comparing Chantelle Houghton and Katie Hopkins, but I can’t help but to think that there’s a lesson for those living in the Westminster bubble. I mean, after all, it’s not very often that you’ve got the left and the right agreeing, albeit for very different reasons, that things are, on the whole, quite crap. On last Thursday’s Question Time, David Dimbleby deadpanned that anyone conscious knows the British people are disillusioned, and Russell Brand attributes voter apathy to a betrayal by the system.
In his column for politics.co.uk, though, Phil Scullion points out that “voter apathy grows in societies which are well fed, safe and where people feel they are being dealt with by the state in a just and fair manner.” By his estimation, then, people were most content in 2001, the zenith of the Blair premiership, when voter turnout was lower than at any time since full adult suffrage was achieved. However, in the two subsequent general elections, turnout has steadily increased by two to three points. By this logic, though, people are increasingly fed up. So Brand and Hitchens are right.
According to the other star of the week, they are. I don’t want to spend an endless amount of time analyzing Sir John Major’s windfall tax proposal, but his uncharacteristicly candid foray into policy debate is, at the very least, indicative of a wider concern. “If we Tories navel-gaze and only pander to our comfort zone we will never win general elections,” he cautioned, encouraging the Conservatives to look geographically north and economically down to address the concerns of workaday Britain.
Likewise, sitting opposite Peter Hitchens-figuratively and literally-on Question Time last week was Owen Jones. “There’s a huge disconnect with politics and ordinary people,” he said, going to lambast M.P.s for the same things Sir John cautioned his own party over, recounting a conversation he once had with Hazel Blears who allegedly admitted that there was no one in the Brown government interested in housing issues. Like Sir John, Owen recognises that the average Brit feels completely alienated from their own political process and their representatives. He too sees the writing on the wall.
I’ve sung a similar refrain for some time now. A couple months ago I did an analysis of the increasing support for Ukip over the past four years, pointing out that it hit double digits for the first time in April of this year. The question I was most often asked afterward was whether Ukip was chipping away from Tory votes or Labour votes. What’s interesting isn’t my answer, but that the answer most of my inquisitors offered depended on their political persuasion; Labour blames disenchanted Tories for the Ukip rise, and the Tories think Labour’s natural constituency is moving in favour of the nationalists. Recent opinion polls show Labour’s lead narrowing, with the Tories growth marginal, so it looks like the latter is true. At least now. I imagine most of the Tories that will have already defected.
So at least to here, I agree, with both Hitchens and Brand that the British public are forlorn and weary, not of Broken Britain but of the gits in government. What I don’t agree with, though, is their rhetoric. Phil Scullion hit the nail on its succinct head: “the content delivered by Brand is so often empty populism, wrapped in linguistic window dressing.” Likewise, Hitchens’ incendiary comment that young Brits ought to emigrate before it’s too late does nothing other than garner him the ire he feeds upon. In both cases the only purpose served is fueling the flames of their own vanities.
It doesn’t raise the level of political discourse. And it certainly doesn’t offer any real alternatives to the British people. What it does do is pander to the likes of Ukip and the SNP, fringe parties which feign populist (small p) agendas but which ultimately serve nothing more than their own doctrinal desires. It’s all a bit like listening to another American that Brits (especially Russell Brand), love to hate-Katy Perry: autotuned to sound appealing, but when you strip it to its barest, is nothing more than out of tune superficiality.